Tag Archives: State Library of Victoria

The weather in southern Tasmania

The early non-indigenous settlers in Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), almost all of whom were formerly residents of the typically rainswept and cool British Isles or had lived in hot India, documented their thoughts on the weather.

Their descriptions of our weather were usually based on comparisons with the situation from which they had relocated. Generally the impression given is that the weather on this island is temperate, irritatingly variable, and considerably easier to live with compared to that experienced in the settlers’ original homelands. For example, in James Bischoff’s “Sketch of the History of Van Diemen’s Land” written in 1832, there are many references to the climate and its relationship to agriculture and animal husbandry. More generally he says: ‘To one accustomed to the moist climate and plentifully watered countries of England, Scotland, and Ireland, Van Diemen’s Land, at first sight, may present a dry and unproductive appearance; but upon a nearer acquaintance, it will put on a more inviting aspect.’  It was ‘the regularity and salubrity of its climate’ which Bischoff found attractive.  The author also claims that ‘A book was published at Calcutta, in 1830, giving an account of Van Diemen’s Land, principally intended for the use of persons residing in India, and shewing the advantages it holds out to them for their residence; the following is extracted from that work: Its climate seems so well adapted to the renovating of the constitution of those who have suffered from their residence in India, that it only requires to be pointed out, and the easiest manner of getting there made known, as also the cheapness and comfort of living, when there, to turn the tide of visitors to the Cape and the Isle of France, towards its shores.’

Godwins Guide to Emigrants to VDL

Godwin’s “Emigrants Guide to Van Diemen’s Land more properly called Tasmania held in the collection of the State Library of Victoria, written in 1823, offers the following: ‘This island has to boast of perhaps the most salubrious and congenial climate of any in the known world, for our European constitution: It has been ascertained by the thermometer to be similar to that of the south of France; the general temperature being about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and the extremes from 43 to 80 degrees. The spring commences early in August, the summer in November, the autumn in March, and the winter in May. The winter, therefore, is not of more than three months’ duration, and the severest part only six weeks.’

Ros Haynes writes on a University of Tasmania site in 2006 ‘In most areas there was adequate rainfall, the climate was more conducive to growing the crops they were used to …. The temperature was also considered more invigorating than the heat and humidity that enervated settlers in the other Australian colonies. Van Diemen’s Land was soon marketing itself as the ‘Sanatorium of the South’, famous for its flowers, fruit and healthy inhabitants.’

Dixons cover

John Dixon, in his 1839 book (available as an E-book) “The Condition and Capabilities of Van Diemen’s Land, as a Place of Emigration: Being the Practical Experience of Nearly Ten Year’s Residence in the Colony“, explained, ‘Lingering illness is seldom heard of in Van Diemen’s Land: and, in consequence, the deaths always seem to be sudden.  These seeming sudden deaths may contribute to praise of the climate: for they may improve its salutary influence, by sustaining the body in health longer there, than in the climate of another country.

These days we would describe our climate as being cool temperate with four distinct seasons. However, across the island, our temperature and rainfall ratings vary according to topography, nearness to the coast and time of the year.  Despite Tasmania’s capital city Hobart being the Australian capital city located closest to South Pole, it is known as the nation’s driest capital city.  By contrast, parts of the west coast of Tasmania expects rain for more than 300 days each year – I lived in Queenstown once and it rained for three weeks straight leaving me feeling very sun deprived.

Helpful tip

When you visit Tasmania for the first time, you will find any and everyone will be happy to talk with you about the weather – for many minutes at a time.  Such conversations may help you to make new friends.  However, please avoid some pitfalls. If you normally live in a super cold climate it may not be appropriate to say our weather is so mild and lovely here, when powder snow tops our mountains in the distance and light drizzle saturates the ground – because we may not think highly of the weather under those circumstances.  Similarly if you come from a very hot climate it may not be appropriate to say the weather is so gorgeously moderate here when we have a 35 Celsius degree day, because it is likely we will consider that to be a hot day. I guess we all have our peculiarities.

Yam Daisies

Thanks to information and photographs supplied by blog follower, Ma from Melbourne, I will be more alert for the plant and flower Microseris scapigera or Microseris lanceolata known by indigenous Australians as Yam daisy or Murnong. Ma told me these plants would provide nourishment as I walked.

Yam daisy Microseris-scapigera-2-226x226

The photo above is located on http://www.victoriannativeseed.com.au/?product=yam-daisy . As the flower continues to open, the similarity with our common dandelion becomes obvious, and a number of websites suggest the dandelion head is similar to the seed head of the Yam Daisy.  It seems perfectly understandable that this plant may be referred to as the native dandelion and it explains why, when walking in our bushland affected by the intrusion of exotic plants, the possibility of misidentification exists. From Wikipedia I have learned that ‘the Tasmanian form is markedly smaller than the mainland Australian form’.

According to http://www.anbg.gov.au/gardens/visiting/exploring/aboriginal-trail  ‘This small perennial plant … has a radish-shaped tuber, which is renewed each year. In the spring the plant forms a yellow flower-head like a dandelion, and in the summer the leaves die off and the tuber becomes dormant. The tubers were cooked in baskets in an earth oven, producing a dark sweet juice which was much liked.’

The Yam Daisy has offered a traditional source of food for indigenous Australians. Wikipedia claims the tubers were ‘prepared by roasting or pit baking; the taste is described as “sweet with a flavour of coconut’.  Sounds yummy to me! The website http://www.parksaustralia.gov.au/botanic-gardens/pubs/aboriginal-plantuse.pdf tells us that the ‘Yam Daisy was a most important staple food. Women dug the roots with digging sticks and then roasted them in baskets in an earth oven. Digging for roots turned over the soil and thinned out the root clumps, two ways of encouraging plant production. Aboriginal people didn’t take the lot or there’d be none left for next time! Aboriginal people believed that the roots of ‘murnong’ should not be collected before the plants flowered. This was probably because during the drier winter period before springtime flowering, the roots would not be fully developed.’

Women digging roots of yam daist State LIb of Vic

The drawing above by J.H. Wedge (1835), showing women digging roots of the Yam Daisy, is held in the collection of the State Library of Victoria. You can see a detailed drawing of a digging stick at https://www.anbg.gov.au/aborig.s.e.aust/roots.bulbs.html.

According to https://tasmanica.wordpress.com/tag/yam-daisy/ ‘… the Yam Daisy (Microseris lanceolata) or ‘Murnong’ as it is known by tuber hunting aborigines on the mainland, has a convoluted history. This makes it a subject of ecological and evolutionary interest to biologists. Its closest relatives are found in western North America. Based on morphological and chromosome studies, the Yam Daisy probably came about by the hybridization of two American species followed by long distance dispersal – quite a distance I might add. So it goes that aborigines were eating foods of American origin way back. This marvellous feat of intercontinental dispersal has been confirmed more recently by studies using DNA extracted from the chloroplasts (cpDNA) of American and the Australian/New Zealand species of Microseris (Vijverberg et al. 1999).’

In my walks along the Derwent River, I have seen these Yam Daisy flowers from time to time. Of course, next time I will look at the plants more closely.